'The Last Kingdom' More 'Downton Abbey' and 'The Tudors' Than 'Game of Thrones,' Says Gareth Neame

by Lisa de Moraes

Do not compare Carnival Films’ new BBC America series, The Last Kingdom to HBO’s Game of Thrones (many have),  the former’s EP Gareth Neame told TV critics this morning at TCA, after one of them did just that and asked him to discuss.

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“I’m a huge admirer of Game of Thrones but that is fantasy,” Neame said. “We have no dragons.” And, while he hopes viewers watch The Last Kingdom “as a piece of entertainment, the facts behind it are true” whereas Game of Thrones, not so much.  What it has in common is the action and  and battles and the look, “but this has a much more documentary feel about it.”

“History is at the heart of” the series, Neame said of the project, based on the best-selling book series The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, “who is the most successful writer of historical fiction globally,” Neame said. “What he does so brilliantly is weave fiction…into actual events happening at the time.”

The project is set in the 9th century AD, when many of the separate kingdoms of what is now known as England have fallen to invading Vikings, and only the Kingdom of Wessex stands, under King Alfred the Great (played by David Dawson). Penned by Stephen Butchard, it follows young warrior and outsider, Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), on a mission to reclaim his birthright.

Alfred, Neame said, “is like the English George Washington, in the sense that he is a name all English people know of, and really know nothing about.”

If you must liken The Last Kingdom to another TV series, go with Carnival’s PBS hit Downton Abbey or Showtime’s The Tudors.

“I was very inspired by The Tudors,” Neame acknowledged.That show was developed in the United States and I don’t think it could ever have been, in England. We can be so obsessive about our history and getting it right.”

“The Tudors was groundbreaking in its approach to the way historical stories can be told,” he said.

And Downton, like The Last Kingdom, “is about taking a much-loved genre and rebooting it for the 21st century,” Neame continued.

“This idea grabbed me as soon as I was introduced to the books. For people in the United States, England is that place that’s always been there. The idea that there was a time  before it even existed was intriguing to me.” But dramatizing Downton era England was much easier because it is so well documented.  So little is known about the period of his new project. “No buildings remain from this era, no paintings – the first English king wasn’t painted until hundred and hundreds of years after this time,” Neame said.

BBC America has set 10 PM ET Saturday, October 10 for the premiere. The international cast also includes Rutger Hauer,Matthew Macfadyen, David Dawson, Emily Cox, Ian Hart, Tobias Santelmann; Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Peter Gantzler, Joseph Millson, Alexandre Willaume, Rune Temte and Henning Valin Jakobsen.

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